May 24, 2006 - Sylvia Lee remembers the day she received her diploma from Pima Community College. It was a culmination of a lot of hard work and a long road for the young student. Now, many years later, she is back where she first began with a new title as president.
July 1 will mark Lee's first day as president of Pima Community College's Northwest Campus.
"It's amazing," Lee said. "I'm coming back."
Lee graduated from Pima Community College in 1979 and is the first student to head one of its campuses.
Lee helped open the NW campus more than three years ago.
For the single mother, it's like being back where she belongs, she said.
Lee comes from a strong willed family where education and familial support is key, she said. Without the gentle prodding of her mother, she may not have continued on the path of education.
After Lee graduated from Catalina High School she went to the University of Arizona and did not do very well, she said. She left the UA with a sour attitude about college. And that is when she found PCC, she said.
The smaller class sizes, flexible schedules and one-on-one educational opportunities enticed the young student. Soon she was excelling at college and it surprised no one more than herself, she said. If it wasn't for PCC, she admits she may never have continued down the collegiate road, she said.
That is why she believes she will make an excellent campus president. She has been through tough times, thought she couldn't make it and survived, she said. She wants to pass that along to other students.
PCC has a large population of non-traditional students. The average graduating student's age is 26. Students who have families, are older and already established are among the many that are attracted to PCC's offerings.
Lee said she can be an inspiration for students and show them that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible.
"I do feel that I can relate," she said. "It (PCC) gives anybody open admission. Anyone has a chance."
Since 2004, Lee has served as the Dean of Instruction at PCC's East Campus. She has been working for 10 years at various PCC campuses.
Anne-Marie McCartan, current president of PCC NW, said she is thrilled to be passing the torch to Lee and is certain she will be a perfect match for the job.
McCartan has been president at PCC NW for two years.
"I'm returning to Virginia, where I came from two years ago to rejoin my family who never relocated back here," she said. "I have great regret for leaving Pima College and this wonderful Northwest Campus."
McCartan will be taking a new position as the Executive Director of the National Council of Colleges of Arts and Science.
"Life presents you with many choices and this is one that I know where my priorities need to be," McCartan said.
McCartan brought many programs to the NW Campus as president, many of which Lee will expand, she said.
Last year the college established direct employment diplomas for hotel and restaurant management and therapeutic massage.
Students can receive their education in these areas and move immediately into jobs. It is especially worthwhile in the Northwest and Foothills where destination spas and resorts are so abundant, she said.
Lee will also be working on projects implemented by McCartan involving continuing education for local business owners and first-time college students, many of who have worked in the "real world" for many years.
"That's the direction that the campus will continue to move after I leave," she said.
Even though McCartan is excited to be reuniting with her family, it is bittersweet to leave the friends that have become her family at PCC, she said.
"I've worked in a number of higher education organizations and I've never seen the level of talent and commitment that I have at Pima College and especially the Northwest Campus," she said. "It's just an extraordinary group of talented people."
Chancellor Roy Flores said he may be sad to see McCartan go, but is looking forward to passing the torch to Lee, he said.
"Dr. Lee is one of our own," he said. "She's been successful since I've known her in everything she set out to do."
And as for Lee, she can't wait to get started in her new position and she is looking forward to the future, she said.
"There's never a dull movement at Pima," she said. "I'm very excited."